Marsha Hunt: who was she? MGM and Paramount star who was blacklisted in Hollywood dies aged 104
Marsha Hunt, a well-known actress, model and activist, died on September 6 at the age of 104. She died of natural causes at her home in Sherman Oaks, where she had lived since 1946.
Her appearances in films such as Born to the West, Pride and Prejudice, Kid Glove Killer, Cry ‘Havoc’ and others have earned her praise. Details of her funeral will be released soon.
Marsha Hunt’s career path
At first, Marsha Hunt was not ready to act in films. However, she was only 17 when she signed a contract with Paramount Pictures in June 1935. Between 1935 and 1938, she appeared in 12 Paramount-produced films, including Easy to Take, Gentle Julia, The Accusing Finger, Murder Goes to Hochschule, and others.
She made several appearances in films for Republic Pictures and Monogram Pictures after her contract was terminated in 1938. The following year she appeared in supporting roles in films such as These Glamor Girls, Pride and Prejudice and Cheers for Miss Bishop.
Marsha Hunt: who is she?
Marsha Hunt was an American actress, model, and activist with a career spanning nearly 80 years (born Marcia Virginia Hunt; October 17, 1917 – September 7, 2022). In the 1950s, during McCarthyism, she was blacklisted by Hollywood film studio executives.
She appeared in a number of films including Born to the West (1937) with John Wayne, Pride and Prejudice (1940) with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier, Kid Glove Killer (1942) with Van Heflin, Cry ‘Havoc’ (1943 ) with Margaret Sullavan and Joan Blondell, The Human Comedy (1943) with Mickey Rooney, The Happy Time (1952) with Charles Boyer (1971).
She became involved in the fight against world hunger during the Black List era and in her later years advocated for same-sex marriage, helped shelter for the homeless, raised awareness of climate change and promoted peace in third world countries.
Marsha Hunt’s early years
Hunt was born on October 17, 1917, the younger of two girls in Chicago, Illinois. Her older sister Marjorie, a teacher, died in 2002. Marcia later changed the spelling of her first name to Marsha. Her parents were Earl Hunt, a lawyer who eventually became a Social Security administrator.
In a 1999 interview for a book, Hunt spoke about how her family was active in the Methodist Church.
I was fortunate to grow up in a friendly, supportive family environment that encourages growth. My father received a Phi Beta Kappa, the highest academic award. In the concert and opera world, my mother worked as a singing teacher and pianist. My mother was a liberated woman, even though we didn’t know the expression back then. They both grew up in Indiana, a state now known as the Bible Belt. They did not smoke or drink, and they never disrespected the name of the Lord. I’ve never come across a four letter word. It wasn’t present in my optimistic family.
When Hunt was a little girl, her family moved to New York City and she began performing in church services and school plays. At the age of 16 she received her diploma from the Horace Mann High School for Girls in 1934.
Marsha Hunt’s career as a model
Although her parents encouraged her to go to college, Hunt wasn’t able to find “a single college or university in the country where you could study acting before third year,” so she found work as a model for the John Powers Agency and began taking acting classes at Theodora Irvine Studio. By 1935 she was one of the highest paid models and by May of that year she had plans to study stage acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in the UK.
Duration of filming of Marsha Hunt at Paramount
Hunt, Robert Taylor, Jean Harlow and Mitzi Green were among the celebrities invited to Washington, DC to help with fundraising for the President’s Birthday Ball (1937; Eleanor Roosevelt at center).
Born in the West, with John Wayne (1937)
Watching the trailer “Pride and Prejudice” (1940)
In the Cry ‘Havoc’ Trailer (1943)
In Smash-Up, a Woman’s Story starring Susan Hayward (1947)
Although initially reluctant to pursue a career in film, Hunt signed a seven-year contract with Paramount Pictures in June 1935 when she was just 17 years old. Paramount met her while visiting her uncle in Los Angeles and comedian Zeppo Marx (of Marx Brothers fame) saw a picture of her in the newspaper. She was then offered a screen test for The Virginia Judge.
After the studio canceled her contract in 1938, Hunt spent several years appearing in B-movies made by low-budget studios like Republic Pictures and Monogram Pictures. She also traveled to New York City to work in summer theater before landing a supporting role in MGM’s These Glamor Girls (1939), starring Lana Turner and Lew Ayres. The role of Betty was rumored to have been written specifically for Hunt.
Stations at MGM
While filming Blossoms in the Dust, director Mervyn LeRoy praised Hunt for her heartfelt and candid acting. During this time, Hunt had starring roles in 21 films, including The Penalty (1941), in which she starred opposite Lionel Barrymore, Panama Hattie (1942), in which she starred alongside Ann Sothern and Red Skelton, Pilot No. 5 (1943), in which she played Franchot Tone’s Love (1945). She had previously taken part in a screen test for the role of Melanie Hamilton in Gone with the Wind (1939), and David O. Selznick had told her that she would play the role but “to keep it a secret for now.” Three days later, it was announced that Olivia de Havilland had been cast. In 1944 she appeared in None Shall Escape, which is now considered the first film about the Holocaust. She portrayed Marja Pacierkowski, the Polish fiancée of Wilhelm Grimm, a German Nazi officer.
Why Was Marsha Hunt Blacklisted In Hollywood?
Hunt received an invitation to join the board of the Screen Actors Guild in 1945.
Hunt and her husband, screenwriter Robert Presnell Jr., joined the First Amendment Committee in 1947 after becoming upset about the actions of the House Committee on Unamerican Activities (HCUA). According to NPR, by the time of her 100th birthday, Hunt was the last surviving member of the group.
At the age of 30, Hunt participated in Hollywood Fights Back, a star-studded radio show co-written by her husband on October 26 of the same year to protest HUAC’s actions. In 2020, Hunt recalled:
We gave our speech, participated in a radio show called Hollywood Fights Back, and went home believing that we had stood up for our country and our work. If there were communists among us, that was none of our business.
To protest HUAC’s actions, Hunt traveled to Washington the following day with a group of about 30 actors, directors, writers and filmmakers, including John Huston, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Danny Kaye. When she returned to Hollywood three days later, things had changed. She was told to clarify her actions if she wanted extra work, but declined.
Along with 151 other actors, writers, and directors, Hunt was identified as a potential communist or communist sympathizer by the anti-Communist publication Red Channels in 1950. The publication claimed that Hunt’s alleged subversive actions, such as asking the Supreme Court to review the convictions of John Howard Lawson and Dalton Trumbo, recording a message in support of a rally organized by the Stop Censorship Committee in 1939, and the Support of
Hunt and Presnell experienced a decline in employment after the release of Red Channels in 1950. Hunt said in 2012 that she was “appalled, saddened and terrified” that journalism was so full of prejudice.
The following year, 1941, Marsha Hunt landed a contract with MGM and spent the next six years starring in 21 of their productions, the most notable being The Penalty, Panama Hattie, Pilot No. 5, None Shall Escape, etc.
Marsha Hunt’s family
Disturbed by the actions of the House Un-American Activities Committee, Marsha and her husband Robert Presnell Jr. joined the Committee for the First Amendment in 1947 after being invited to serve on the board of the Screen Actors Guild.
She was asked to retire if she wanted to work in the film industry after she and 30 other well-known Hollywood figures went to Washington to protest HUAC’s actions. She was also on a list of 151 actors, writers, and directors identified as potential communists or communist sympathizers in the 1950 anti-communist publication Red Channels.
Marsha Hunt claimed that after the release of Red Channels, filmmakers began viewing her and the other actors as unrentable and accused producer Richard J. Collins of blacklisting the actresses. However, she returned in 1957 and appeared in six films before finally announcing her semi-retirement in 1960.
Her book The Way We Wore: Styles of the 1930s and ’40s and Our World Since Then was published in 1933. Hunt has continued to appear on shows such as Breaking Point, My Three Sons, Gunsmoke, and Star Trek: The Next Generation. She also appeared in films like Johnny Got His Gun, Chloe’s Prayer, The Grand Inquisitor and others.
In addition to serving on the advisory board of the San Fernando Valley Community Mental Health Center, Marsha founded the San Fernando Valley Mayor’s Fund for the Homeless and produced an hour-long television program on refugee issues in 1960.
Marsha Hunt married Robert Presnell Jr. in February 1946 after initially divorcing Jerry “Jay” Hopper in 1943. Although they had a daughter in July 1947 who died the following day, Marsha and Robert remained married until Robert died in June 1986.